Every pains should be taken to prevent the surface of the land from becoming crusty or baked, for the hard surface establishes a capillary connection with the moist soil beneath, and is a means of passing off the water into the atmosphere. Loose and mellow soil also has more free plant-food, and provides the most congenial conditions for the growth of plants. The tools that one may use in preparing the surface soil are now so many and so well adapted to the work that the gardener should find special satisfaction in handling them.
If the soil is a stiff clay, it is often advisable to plow it or dig it in the fall, allowing it to lie rough and loose all winter, so that the weathering may pulverize and slake it. If the clay is very tenacious, it may be necessary to throw leafmold or litter over the surface before the spading is done, to prevent the soil from running together or cementing before spring. With mellow and loamy lands, however, it is ordinarily best to leave the preparation of the surface until spring.
In the preparation of the surface, the ordinary hand tools, or spades and shovels, may be used. If, however, the soil is mellow, a fork is a better tool than a spade, from the fact that it does not slice the soil, but tends to break it up into smaller and more irregular masses. The ordinary spading-fork, with strong flat tines, is a most serviceable tool; a spading-fork for soft ground may be made from an old manure fork by cutting down the tines, as shown in Fig. 84.
It is important that the soil should not be sticky when it is prepared, as it is likely to become hard and baked and the physical condition be greatly injured. However, land that is too wet for the reception of seeds may still be thrown up loose with a spade or fork and allowed to dry, and after two or three days the surface preparation may be completed with the hoe and the rake. In ordinary soils the hoe is the tool to follow the spading-fork or the spade, but for the final preparation of the surface a steel garden-rake is the ideal implement.
In areas, large enough to admit horse tools, the land can be fitted more economically by means of the various types of plows, harrows, and cultivators that are to be had of any dealer in agricultural implements. Figure 85 shows various types of model surface plows. The one shown at the upper left-hand is considered by Roberts, in his "Fertility of the Land," to be the ideal general-purpose plow, as respects shape and method of construction.
The type of machine to be used must be determined wholly by the character of the land and the purposes for which it is to be fitted. Lands that are hard and cloddy may be reduced by the use of the disk or Acme harrows, shown in Fig. 86; but those that are friable and mellow may not need such heavy and vigorous tools. On these mellower lands, the spring-tooth harrow, types of which are shown in Fig. 87, may follow the plow. On very hard lands, these spring-tooth harrows may follow the disk and Acme types. The final preparation of the land is accomplished by light implements of the pattern shown in Fig. 88. These spike-tooth smoothing-harrows do for the field what the hand-rake does for the garden-bed.
[Illustration: Fig. 86. Disk and Acme harrows, for the first working of hard or cloddy land.]
If it is desired to put a very fine finish on the surface of the ground by means of horse tools, implements like the Breed or Wiard weeder may be used. These are constructed on the principle of a spring-tooth horse hay-rake, and are most excellent, not only for fitting loose land for ordinary seeding, but also for subsequent tillage.
In areas that cannot be entered with a team, various one-horse implements may do the work that is accomplished by heavier tools in the field. The spring-tooth cultivator, shown at the right in Fig. 89, may do the kind of work that the spring-tooth harrows are expected to do on larger areas; and various adjustable spike-tooth cultivators, two of which are shown in Fig. 89, are useful for putting a finish on the land. These tools are also available for the tilling of the surface when crops are growing. The spring-tooth cultivator is a most useful tool for cultivating raspberries and blackberries, and other strong-rooted crops.
For still smaller areas, in which horses cannot be used and which are still too large for tilling wholly by means of hoes and rakes, various types of wheel-hoes may be used. These implements are now made in great variety of patterns, to suit any taste and almost any kind of tillage. For the best results, it is essential that the wheel should be large and with a broad tire, that it may override obstacles. Figure 90 shows an excellent type of wheel-hoe with five blades, and Fig. 91 shows one with a single blade and that may be used in very narrow rows. Two-wheeled hoes (Fig. 92) are often used, particularly when it is necessary to have the implement very steady, and the wheels may straddle the rows of low plants. Many of these wheel-hoes are provided with various shapes of blades, so that the implement may be adjusted to many kinds of work. Nearly all the weeding of beds of onions and like plants can be done by means of these wheel-hoes, if the ground is well prepared in the beginning; but it must be remembered that they are of comparatively small use on very hard and cloddy and stony lands.